SARASOTA, Fla. — Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen won’t begin a throwing program until Tuesday or Wednesday of the coming week, leaving open the possibility that he might not have enough time to be fully ready to assume his spot in the Nationals’ bullpen by Opening Day.
Storen, who was dealing with some biceps/triceps soreness as well as a case of strep throat that pushed him back, underwent an MRI on his right arm on Thursday and those results came back clean, showing just a little inflammation in his elbow join. Storen will rest the arm until at least Tuesday before beginning to slowly build up his strength.
The Nationals open the season a week from this coming Thursday, on April 5 in Chicago, so the timetable makes it questionable that Storen would reach full readiness by that point. It’s difficult to say that firmly, though, until he begins activities again.
“I’m going to prepare for the possibility that he doesn’t break with us,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “I’m not saying it’s out of the question for him to break with us but I’m going to prepare my staff for the opener with the possibility that Storen might not be my closer because of being cautious and making sure he’s 100 percent right.”
In the event that Storen has to begin the season on the disabled list, Johnson said right-handers Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez would be the two top candidates to serve in the closer role in Storen’s absence. Lidge, a veteran who won the World Series as the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, has plenty of experience in the role and Rodriguez picked up two saves for the Nationals down the stretch in September 2011.
Lidge, who has said several times this spring that his only goal for the six weeks the Nationals are in Florida is to come out of things healthy, is feeling strong and is putting together a nice stat line. He’s pitched in five major league games, an inning each time, and allowed just one earned run off four hits and struck out seven. He’s also pitched in several minor league games in which he’s been stretched out to two innings. Rodriguez has made six appearances, allowed just one hit and walked two.
Tyler Clippard, however, will not be considered for that role. Clippard, an All-Star set-up man in 2011 who is among the best relievers in the league, is basically too valuable in that role. In 72 appearances last year, Clippard had a 1.83 ERA and allowed just 22 percent of inherited runners. The Nationals would be weary of weakening another position in their bullpen just to fill a spot they have plenty of other candidates for.
“The role that he played last year during the season, it’s hard to replace what he did,” Johnson said. “What he did last year was at least as important if not more important than the closer.”